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Featured Plant

Arbutus menziesii


Scientific Name: Arbutus menziesii

Common Names: madrone, Pacific madrone

Family: Ericaceae

Plant Type: Large shrub or tree

Environment: Needs excellent drainage and some summer watering in full or nearly full sun; prefers poor soil and to mostly be left alone

Bloom: Small urn-shaped, white to pinkish flowers appear from March to June

Uses: Works well as a solitary specimen or when planted in small groupings



Arbutus menziesii

Arbutus menziesii can be found up and down the state of California often in mixed evergreen forests and hillsides. Its range extends outside of the state but is confined to western North America. The Latin name, Arbutus menziesii, was chosen for Archibald Menzies, a naturalist and botanist from Great Britain who collected plants during expeditions exploring the Pacific Northwest with Captain George Vancouver. Its common name, madrone, comes from the Spanish madroño meaning strawberry tree. It was so dubbed by Spanish explorers as it resembled the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) commonly found in Europe. Although similar, Arbutus unedo bears fruit resembling small strawberries, whereas the fruit of Arbutus menziesii forms drooping grape-like clusters.

One of the largest Arbutus in the world, madrones are known for their exquisite ornamental bark. It starts off a deep orange then becomes darker, reddish and peels away from the trunk as the tree matures. The contrast between the bark and the dark green leaves make this a wonderful tree that can be enjoyed year-round. The small urn-shaped flowers are white, sometimes pinkish, and appear in drooping clusters in the spring and early summer. The fruit ripens by the fall and turns from greenish-yellow to orange and red, and is an important food for birds and wildlife. The wood is used in furniture, paneling and harvested for firewood. The flagship tree for this species is located at the east end of Manzanita Hill in the California Native Garden. It is a beautiful multi-trunked specimen with a striking shape.

Text by David Kruse-Pickler. Photos by Joanne Taylor, David Kruse-Pickler, Mona Bourell. Profile by David Kruse-Pickler.


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